Mob Attack in Burayu Displaces, Injures Many

Several thousand people were forced out of their homes by violence in Burayu town, Oromia Regional State, and are sheltering in the capital.The incident took place when a marauding mob, returning from a massive rally in the capital, attacked residents, killing more than two dozen and wounding hundreds, writes DAWIT ASTATIKE , FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.

Kefita Kallo, the  46-year old father of seven, has lived in Burayu town, Oromia Regional State, in the locality of Keri for close to two decades.

A weaver of traditional clothes by profession and working in the trade for almost three decades, Kefita, leased the land he had been living some 15 years ago.

On September 15, last Saturday, Kefita was weaving at his home as he normally does every day when he heard a group of youth chanting after they arrived in the area on the backs of an Isuzu truck.

“The chanting devolved into a gruesome attack and looting,” he said.

The mob attack on the residents of the town, including on Kefita, happened on the day Dawud Ibsa, chairman of the Oromo Liberation Front, came to town after decades in exile.

It has been reported that the attack was perpetrated by youth returning from the massive rally and the welcoming ceremony held for Dawud at Mesqel Square, attended by hundreds of thousands of his followers and celebrated in a festive atmosphere.

“They held sticks, axes and machetes. Suddenly, they turned the neighbourhood into mayhem and destruction,” he lamented to Fortune.

The incident claimed the lives of more than 28 people and left hundreds more injured.

The mob attack on the residents of the town, including on Kefita, happened on the day Dawud Ibsa, chairman of the Oromo Liberation Front, came to town after decades in exile.

“I threw myself and my children into the nearest river, and we hid in a bush,” he told Fortune. “We spent the night there in fear and despair.”

The next morning he accompanied tens of thousands who marched toward the capital to save their lives.

Kefita and his fellow citizens of Burayu settled in six schools and two youth centres near the Asco area, Gullele District. Addis Fanna, Gulelle Fanna, Fetawrari Habtegiorgis, Philipos, General Wingate and Medhanialem schools have become impromptu refugee centres to shelter the dispossessed.

Another displaced person from the area is Asana Lolle, a father of two, who has settled in Medhanialem Preparatory School with his family, after fleeing his home and staying the Saturday night in the woods of Choressa Micheal.

Most of them fled with nothing more than what they had on their backs.

Yosef Wedaba and his friends have been mobilising funds to provide food, nutrition assistance, water and materials for sanitation and hygiene to the displaced.

“We are even walking the streets, asking for contributions from the passersby,” Yosef said.

Health officers of Gulele District are also providing medical treatment to the injured people.

Another concern facing the displaced people is that schools will be opening beginning this week on September 24, according to the education bureau’s schedule.

“We started treating the injured from Tuesday, September 18 on,” Damtew Belata, a coordinator at the District’s health office, told Fortune.

The number of the displaced people from Burayu has reached 17,000, according to Negeri Lencho, spokesperson for the Oromia Regional State, speaking to Fana Broadcasting Corporate on Wednesday.

This figure is in addition to the 1.4 million internally displaced people in Ethiopia recorded since January 2018, according to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

Conflict broke out in Gedeo and West Guji zones in the south of the country; disputes erupted between residents of Somali and Oromo Regional State to the east; and unrest in Jijiga, Somali Regional State all took place in the span several months this year.

This has propelled the country to the top rank for having the largest number of internally displaced people in the world, even surpassing Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, two countries most affected by internal displacement.

Though most of them are temporarily sheltered in the schools and are receiving aid, some like Burtikan Kesto are in desperate states as they are separated from other family members.

“I don’t even know where my husband is,” she said.

Her life was saved by her neighbour, who hid close to 50 people in her house, protecting them from the attackers.

“Police officers did not save us. It was my good-hearted neighbour who saved us,” he said. “Some police officers merely stood by observing the attackers looting properties.”

The Oromia Police Commission denies this. Police claimed that they tried to control the violence with only 50 police officers assigned to the area.

“We were understaffed to control the situation,” Sori Dinka, deputy commissioner general of Oromia Police Commission, told Fortune.

After the incident, the regional police arrested 267 suspects, according to Negeri, and police are investigating the incident, he added.

By last Wednesday, a total of 300 people were helped with returning to their homes, according to Negeri.

Even though the regional state is working to resettle the displaced in their homes and the youth and volunteers in Addis Abeba are providing humanitarian assistance to the displaced, some are leaving the shelters and going to their relatives.

Mena Chendere, who sheltered inside Philipos Elementary School for three days, decided to depart to Arba Minch, her hometown.

She was leaving the school last Wednesday when Fortune met her.

“It is better to move to my birthplace until things get better,” she said.

“We understand their concern,” says Sori, adding that they are working on restoring the stability of the area.

The incident was followed by a large demonstration in the capital last Monday. The demonstrators were asking the government to take legal action against the perpetrators of the attack in Burayu. Later, the demonstration turned into a protest and resulted in the loss of five lives when police opened fire.

The regional police have reported that they have seized armaments and money deposited in the accounts of suspects they arrested.

Another concern facing the displaced people is that schools will be opening beginning this week on September 24, according to the education bureau’s schedule.

“I have no idea what will be our fate,” Kefita told Fortune, stating that his children also have to go to school this year.

To move the displaced people from the schools to their homes or to an alternative area, a committee comprised of the federal government, Oromia Regional State and Addis Abeba City Administration have been organised, according to the Addis Abeba Education Bureau.

Some experts say the main reason why the country has gotten into a situation like this is that there is no emergency plan in place when disasters occur in the country.

“The government needs a recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation plan,” said Temesgen Tilahun, an expert in disaster and risk reduction and a university professor with more than 15 years of experience.


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